Student Press Freedom Bill Deserves Widespread Support

The Tower (Grosse Point, Michigan)

“The Tower” is not subject to prior review from administration, but that doesn’t mean other student papers in Michigan have this same First Amendment protection.

And while “The Tower” has run controversial pieces including those on athletes using drugs and students using LSD, in some districts these stories would not have run because administrators his would have deemed them “inappropriate” or said they portray the school in a bad light.

Fortunately student media in Grosse Pointe is protected by a board of education policy that reads in part, “District administrators and teachers are responsible for encouraging and ensuring freedom of expression and freedom of the press for all students, regardless of whether the ideas expressed may be considered unpopular, critical, controversial, tasteless, or offensive.”

In other districts, however, school administrators attempt to exercise undue and sometimes illegal power over student journalists because of a 1988 Supreme Court case: Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier.

Student journalists of the Hazelwood East High School, “The Spectrum,” wanted to publish pieces on divorce and teen pregnancy. Their principal deemed these articles to be “inappropriate” and forbid the stories to run in the paper. With no time to edit before the paper went to press, the journalists had to remove the pieces from the issue. Since the paper was sponsored by the school, the court ruled the principal had the right to prevent the articles from running.

But administrative censorship prevents student voice, stifles critical thinking and puts a government official in charge of student opinion, preventing true learning from taking place.

To remedy this problem and to let high school journalists exercise their First Amendment rights, express their views and provide real-life news to students, State Senate Bill 848 is being sponsored by Republicans Rick Jones, Patrick Colbeck and Tom Casperson and Democrat Steven M. Bieda, showing the importance of student First Amendment rights is a bipartisan issue.

The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously on March 24 and is headed to the full Senate for a vote.

If this bill becomes law, it will grant the right to student media in Michigan to publish what they wish as long as the content isn’t libelous, doesn’t constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy, doesn’t violate federal or state law and doesn’t incite students to materially and substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school.

These are reasonable restrictions, and the fact the the state’s principals’ association, The Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, has actively lobbied against the bill makes no sense given these guidelines.  Other states have this type of legislation and there have been no problems in any of these states with administrators not being able to prevent illegal content in student publications.

“The Tower” supports Senate Bill 848 to help student journalists share their opinions about today’s issues and controversial topics without the interference of administrators and become better citizens of and for the world.

The world after high school won’t hold any punches when it comes to controversial topics, so why should student journalists? At every state and national journalism conference we attend, we hear horror stories of administrators at other schools exercising prior review and restraint without any educational justification for doing so.

If adults expect students to graduate high school and navigate the complexities of the real world, stifling reporting  just because a topic makes people uncomfortable is the wrong way to go. Administrators who are too hands-on in deciding the content of student publications not only violate students’ First Amendment rights, they also create students who won’t be prepared to deal with the complexities and controversies of real life.

Photo Credit: Jen Toenjes

About Grace Masback

Grace Masback, 17, aspires to give voice to the voiceless and holds the modest ambition of becoming the voice of Gen Z. Frustrated by the dearth of impactful platforms for teen journalists, she founded WANT, a news, sports, and entertainment website that aggregates the best in high school journalism from school newspapers and teen bloggers around the world (www.wantnewsforteens.com).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s